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THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (Blu-ray)

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eaglehuntresscoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: Yes, if reading age
2016, 87 min., Color
Sony Pictures Classics
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Kazakh DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B
Trailer
Amazon link

Like most 13-year-old girls, Aisholpan likes to paint her nails and hang out with friends. Though she enjoys school and wants to be one of the best students, like a typical teenager she also has a dream that’s more far-reaching.

But Aisholpan Nurgaiv is far from typical. She was born into a family of Kazakh nomads, who break down their tents and relocate based on the time of year, as 30 percent of the population does. She and her family live in the most isolated part of one of the most remote countries in the world—Mongolia—where the terrain is rugged and school is so far away that the children must stay in dormitories during the week, only returning home on the weekends. That leaves plenty of time for hanging out with friends . . . and dreaming.

eaglehuntressscreen1If your children aren’t averse to watching documentaries with subtitles, I can’t think of a better one for family movie night than The Eagle Huntress, a G-rated inspirational film that has a lot going for it: exotic setting, gorgeous cinematography, a likable teenage protagonist, a special father-daughter bond, and a natural dramatic arc that’s the result of Aisholpan’s very specific dream. She wants to become a golden eagle hunter like her father and grandfather, and his father and grandfather, and their fathers and grandfathers. It’s an all-male party she’s trying to crash, but what makes this film heartwarming is that she has the support and encouragement of her family.

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ANTARCTICA: ICE AND SKY (DVD)

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antarcticaiceandskycoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes, but….
2015, 89 min., Color/B&W
Music Box Films
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: French/English Dolby Digital 5.1 w/subtitles
Bonus features: B-
Trailer
Amazon link

Claude Lorius is a glaciologist. Over a 60-year career he has participated in more than 20 polar expeditions—not only to study glaciers and glacial movement, but also to drill deep down into their near-timeless cores to analyze the ice from different time periods. What they reveal is fascinating, and one of the film’s memorable moments comes when we’re taken into an archive of core-drill ice samples all stacked in rows on shelves according to samples dated by their air bubbles—some of them going back 800,000 years. Lorius began his study of glaciers in 1956 as a 23-year-old man, but as early as 1965 his research was telling him something disturbing. Long before the polar caps began to melt, Lorius was predicting that they would because of the appearance of so-called greenhouse gasses in the ice samples he was taking, and the way those gasses altered the composition of the ice.

There’s no denying that the work Lorius does is fascinating science, unless you’re a U.S. politician who denounces anything that gets in the way antarcticaiceandskyscreen2of the economy. But it’s not very compelling as drama. Antarctica: Ice and Sky, a film by Luc Jacquet that closed the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is a treatise on global warming that’s frankly dull in spots. The dialogue is overwritten and often stilted, and there aren’t enough shots of Antarctica in HD—with far too much of the film relying on grainier archival footage from earlier expeditions. What Lorius and others do may be fascinating as scientific research, but so much of that research is repetitive and the progress so glacial itself that there isn’t anything close to a dramatic structure to be found here.

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THE PIRATES (2014) (Blu-ray)

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PiratescoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2014, 130 min., Color
Not rated (would be PG-13 for some violence and language)
Well Go USA
Aspect ratio: 16×9 widescreen
Featured audio: Korean 5.1 HD Surround/DTS-HD
Bonus features: None
Trailer

The real test of a movie in our household is whether one or all of us want to add that film to our collection so we can watch it again. And 15 minutes into The Pirates, my teenage son was cracking up and saying, “This is a keeper.” I second the notion.

But I’ll tell you right now, your children have to be good and confident readers to enjoy this South Korean comedy-adventure, because it’s presented in Korean with English subtitles, and there’s plenty of fast-talking action.

Director Lee Seok-hoon pays obvious homage to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with a slick comedy-adventure that features a Johnny Depp-like bandit leader known as Crazy Tiger (Jang Sa-jung) and a female pirate chief-turned-captain (Son Ye-jin). There are funnily harrowing escapes and even a giant water wheel that rolls through a marketplace, all of which will remind you of Captain Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swan.

There’s a thin line between “homage” and “rip-off,” but The Pirates also features plenty of quirky originality. How else to describe a plot that turns on a whale that happens to swallow the royal seal and gold that was en route to validate a new dynasty? Though the film is set in 1388 and on the surface seems to tell the epic tale behind the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, there’s more comedy and magical realism in The Pirates than there is actual history. If it were an American film we’d be calling it a blockbuster or a popcorn movie, because it’s all about big special effects, a high-concept Hollywood formula, and plenty of action and laughs.   More

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